From a writer's standpoint, a new year or a new season usually offers up an easy entry point into examining whatever material is being reviewed. You can compare and contrast the past with the present, finds signs of what the future may hold, and see if there's any sort of meaningful change, an unavoidable theme of this time of year. Monday Night Raw doesn't allow that to happen. It's an unrelenting, non-stop show, and while it does bust out holiday-specific graphics and matches every now and then, there's hardly any sense of the show embracing the mood of the season. A holiday episode of a TV show usually explores the themes of the season. Raw just throws up some digital confetti and squawkers, has Michael Cole muse on the changes that come with the new year, and then does nothing to exemplify that potential change.
That's fine though. This is Raw, and we know what we're getting at this point. I don't need holiday-specific thematic exploration by any means, though it's grating to have commentary hammer home the point again and again despite nothing relevant to those comments happening on the screen. And really, if Raw is going to talk about change and kicking the year off right, this episode is a sad attempt at that.
80 minutes of dull wrestling
This show begins with an hour and twenty minutes of some of the dullest wrestling I've seen on this show in some time. Raw's certainly had some meandering filler episodes in recent weeks, but at the very least the wrestling was good. That's not the case this week. The centerpiece match between Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe is absolutely the stellar match you expect it to be, but the rest of the card runs the gamut from meaningless to abysmal.
The biggest issue plaguing the first three matches is that the wrestling isn't all that important. All three matches are focused on moving forward character-based stories, and while that's a necessary thing to do, it's exhausting when they're stacked up next to each other like they are this week. For a match containing two great in-ring performers, the Cesaro vs. Jason Jordan match that kicks off the show is sluggish; the Miami crowd turns against it almost immediately. The problem with this match, and it continues through the first three, is that the storytelling comes at the end. Everything else is meaningless.
So, Cesaro and Jordan wrestle a boring match, which leads to a single interesting moment: Jason Jordan celebrating in an over-the-top way despite being close to a loss the entire time. That's a great touch, and continues to move along Jordan's presumed heel turn. When he pops up during a Shield pep talk later on, presuming some camaraderie with Reigns and Rollins, his cockiness is underscored. But it's twenty minutes of dull wrestling for a small character moment to open the show, and that's not good. That's true of the other two matches in the first 80 minutes as well. Bray Wyatt takes on Apollo Crews in a match that has about as much momentum as you'd imagine, and ends with Crews taking the loss despite the distraction. So the idea we walk away with is that even with the distraction from Titus and Dana Brooke, Crews still can't win? Not exactly the most promising bit of character work for a man who Michael Cole says is ready to make 2018 his year.
This is not an ideal way to use Asuka
Similarly, Alexa Bliss and Asuka wrestle a truly atrocious match to cap this all off. Again, there's a small storytelling moment that's fine: when Bliss loses the match, the look on her face, coupled with her clinging to her title, suggests she knows her reign is coming to an end soon, either at WrestleMania or well before that. Getting to that moment is a slog though. The match calls for Bliss to continually run away from Asuka, and the cowardly heel role has never suited her. She's much better as a vicious, no-nonsense competitor who takes shortcuts, not one who just runs away from her competitor. I get that Asuka is a different beast all together, but this just doesn't work. It's a mess, a fact only compounded by the two previous matches immediately bringing the show to a crawl.
Battle of the Samoans
The good news is that the rest of the show offers up some real good moments. This Raw is the lowest lows followed by serious highs. So, there's Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe putting on a great match for the Intercontinental Championship. With the Rumble around the corner a title change seems possible, and that gives the match some added unpredictability. There's a moment late in the match where the ref gets bumped, and Joe hits Reigns with a uranage, and the subsequent near-fall is beautifully timed. Everything falls into place perfectly throughout the match, from Joe's intensity and ability to take out Reigns' limbs and keep him down, to Reigns rising up because he needs to do this for his fallen Shield brother Dean Ambrose. It's a wonderfully told story, and it continues Reigns' streak of anchoring Raw with twenty-minute classics.
The Balor Club is maybe, finally, a real thing
We also get the long overdue reunion of Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. Their match against Elias and the Miztourage is short and (too) sweet, but it's still a fun bit of pro wrestling business. With SmackDown Live making sure nearly every team in their division matters, it's about time Raw gave the Good Brothers a sense of direction. Plus, Balor isn't doing much at the moment, which means that the Balor Club could become a dominant faction in the tag team division while also catapulting Balor towards the Universal Championship he never lost. A backstage promo proves that the elusive title is still very much on his mind.
Overall though, Raw doesn't amount too much. It's fitfully entertaining in its back half; the Roman Reigns-Samoe Joe match is great, The Balor Club is fun, but the final locker room-clearing segment with Brock Lesnar and Kane underscores how much of this show is on autopilot at the moment. This is a show with some seriously compelling moments, but they're just that: moments. As a whole, this is a tedious Raw.
- Cena's in the Rumble, which means we're one step close to getting Cena vs. Jinder for the title at WrestleMania (I'm joking. Or am I?).
- Jason Jordan's cocky moment at the end of his match would have made more of an impact if commentary had any idea what story was being told. Cole is going on about how Rollins is proud of his gutsy win and that they're celebrating because of it, all while Rollins is clearly annoyed by his partner's antics.
- I am excited for the destination of Woken Matt. I am not enjoying the promos though. It's the same stuff every week. Kind of like what we've been getting with, well, Bray Wyatt.
- Samoa Joe calls Dean Ambrose a "stay-at-home husband living off his wife's paycheck" to Renee Young's face and it's the best.
- I love that Braun Strowman gets as much time as he wants to powerslam people after his matches.
- Goldust was in a Cruiserweight match this week. I have nothing else to add.
Jason Jordan defeated Cesaro; Bray Wyatt defeated Apollo Crews; Asuka defeated Alexa Bliss; Braun Strowman defeated Rhyno; Roman Reigns (c) defeated Samoa Joe (Intercontinental Championship match); Cedric Alexander and Goldust defeated Drew Gulak and Arya Daivari; Finn Balor and The Club defeated Elias and the Miztourage.